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During CNN's pre-debate coverage on the June 3 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs noted that Congress has a "33 percent approval rating" and asserted that "this Congress [is] get[ting] hammered even more in these opinion polls than the previous Congress." Dobbs then asked: "What in the world does that say about Democratic leadership?" In fact, Congress' current approval rating in most polls is higher than that of the previous, Republican-controlled Congress, for much of its tenure, and one recent poll that broke down approval by party found that respondents approved of Democrats much more than previous samples had approved of Republicans when Republicans held the congressional majority.
While Dobbs did not say whether the 33 percent approval number he cited represented a specific poll or an average of polls, most polls show that the current (110th) Congress' approval is higher than the previous (109th) Congress' approval -- especially in the 109th Congress' second year:
The New York Times/CBS News poll's most recent congressional approval rating was 35 percent in its May 18-23 survey. That rating was higher than Congress' rating in all of the 23 samples taken during the previous Republican-controlled Congress -- except its first two samples (January 14-18, 2005 and February 24-28, 2005) and its fourth (April 13-16, 2005), which was also at 35.
The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll's most recent congressional approval rating was 32 percent in its May 15-16 survey. That rating was higher than the previous Congress' approval rating in 12 of 15 samples. Fox News recorded a 40 percent approval rating for the 109th Congress on March 29-30, 2005, and 34 percent approval on both September 13-14, 2005, and January 24-25, 2006.
The Gallup poll's most recent congressional approval rating was 29 percent in its May 10-13 survey. That rating was higher than the previous Congress' rating in 14 of the last 18 samples taken on the 109th Congress going back to October 2005 -- and tied in the other four instances. In all, the current Congress either tied or outpolled the previous Congress 18 of the total 27 instances in which Gallup surveyed congressional approval.
University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Charles H. Franklin, past president of the Society for Political Methodology, published a chart on his weblog, Political Arithmetik, showing congressional approval from 1990 through May 23, 2007. The trend line, derived from congressional approval polls, shows Congress with a higher approval rating than it had for most of 2005 and 2006 -- and significantly higher than on Election Day, 2006:
(Click here for full-size image.)
Additionally, an April 12-15 Washington Post/ABC News poll, which recorded a 44 percent overall approval rating for Congress, showed a 54 percent approval rating for the majority "Democrats in Congress" and 39 percent approval rating for the minority "Republicans in Congress." By contrast, the majority Republicans received approval ratings of 35 (October 8, 2006), 33 (May 15, 2006), 35 (November 2, 2005), and 42 (June 5, 2006) percent in Washington Post-ABC News polls during the previous Congress. The minority Democrats received 48, 39, 41, and 42 percent approval ratings in those respective polls.
From the 6 p.m. ET hour of CNN's pre-debate coverage on the June 3 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN (Democratic strategist): Well, what happened -- what happened, Ed, is the Bush administration didn't cut taxes for the middle class. They just passed the tax burden down to state and local governments.
DOBBS: OK, so -- so let's get -- let's get to that issue. We're looking right now at a 33 percent approval rating, now five months into a new Democratically led Congress. We are watching this Congress get hammered even more in these opinion polls than the previous Congress, which I think is historically one of the worst in terms of accomplishment -- I think. I know.
What in the world does that say about Democratic leadership? And how much is what this Congress accomplishes -- Democratically-led Congress accomplishes -- or doesn't accomplish going to play into the 2008 presidential election?
MICHAEL GOODWIN (New York Daily News columnist): Well, I think quite a bit. I think right now we have a very impatient and somewhat unhappy electorate. And I think that the Democrats, you know, basically took Congress by beating up on George Bush. And don't forget, coming down the stretch you had Republican corruption scandals -- that sort of thing. I think the Democrats, presumably at some point in the next two years will have a scandal of their own. And they can find themselves in the -- in the --
DOBBS: Now we're projecting scandals?
GOODWIN: Well, no -- no, but I think --
ED ROLLINS (Republican strategist): Always the optimist, Mike.
GOODWIN: No, but I think it's just likely. It happens in virtually every Congress sooner or later.